The Somali National Army (SNA) is being groomed to become the mainstay of the country’s security apparatus but remains a junior partner to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The 2012 National Security and Stabilisation Plan (NSSP) provided a blueprint for the rebuilding of Somalia’s security forces. It envisaged 28,000 professional soldiers and 12,000 police at a cost of about US$160m over three years, including a reformed judiciary. The 2013 Somalia Conference in London also ranked security as the priority for resurrecting a two-decade-old failed state; European donor nations pledged more than $100m for the security sector.
The US State Department said in a March 2014 statement that the US had provided more than $512m in financial support to AMISOM since 2007, and a further $171m for the development of an “effective and professional Somali National Army.”
Acting governor of Baidoa and Sector 3 commander of the SNA Brig-Gen Ibrahim Yaro dismisses any suggestion that clan loyalties among SNA personnel, or poor pay ($100 a month plus $30 for food – stipends provided by the US and Italy), impede the operational readiness of his soldiers, but it is a view not shared by AMISOM.
“Clan loyalty is a big problem. SNA [operations] are restricted by clan influence. The police is especially clan-based, although the army is a little better. The SNA leadership is also very weak,” Col Gebrehaweria Fitwi, the Ethiopian force civil-military coordinator in Sector 3, told the UN humanitarian and news analysis service, IRIN.
“There is the problem of SNA doing private security work [because of low pay] and they are asking us all the time for ammunition. The soldiers come from clans and almost all the army is newly recruited. There are no tactical skills, and there is no command and control,” with SNA soldiers coming and going from their bases as they please, he added.
Specific uniform for SNA troops is all but non-existent, and more seriously, Yaro says there is not enough ammunition.
“Al-Shabaab has more ammunition than us. AMISOM is not ready to give us more. If the SNA had more ammunition we could do more activities in the area,” he said.
Mohamed Mubarak, a Mogadishu-based security analyst and founder of the anti-corruption NGO Marqaati in a February 2014 African Arguments briefing said: “Since the TNG days, the transitional governments of Somalia have given military honours to clan and warlord militia commanders simply to appease said groups [clans].
“This has resulted in an army of semi-literate officers at every level: from the veteran warlord Indha Adde promoted to general from nothing by Sheikh Sharif [Ahmed, the former Somali president between 2009 and 2012] in 2010, to former ICU [Islamic Courts Union] foot soldiers promoted to captains and majors from 2009.”
Mubarak told IRIN: “Because of clan politics and the realities of Somalia during the civil war, some clans have more representation in the armed forces and use the SNA cover to achieve their objectives.”
“In today’s Somali army, clan loyalties trump national identity; without this being rectified by rehabilitating and decommissioning clan militias, continuing to arm the Somali army is akin to fuelling clan wars,” Mubarak said in the briefing note.
The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group in a February 2014 briefing – following the partial lifting of the country’s more than 20-year-old arms embargo in March 2013, which was eased so that Somalia could re-equip its security forces – pointed to the “high level and systematic abuses in weapons and ammunition management and distribution”.
The briefing said: “The Monitoring Group has identified at least two separate clan-based centres of gravity for weapons procurement within the FGS [Federal Government of Somalia] structures. These two interest groups appear to be prosecuting narrow clan agendas, at times working against the development of peace and security in Somalia through the distribution of weapons to parallel security forces and clan militias that are not part of the Somali security forces.
“In addition, the Monitoring Group has obtained separate photographic evidence of a new AK-pattern assault rifle in one illicit market which matches the exact type supplied by Ethiopia to the SNA. The serial number on that rifle is in sequence with serial numbers inspected on Ethiopian-supplied rifles in Halane [Mogadishu’s main military camp],” the briefing said.
Information obtained by the monitoring group found poor controls on weapons and ammunition and their “sources in the markets indicate[d] that weapons are being moved to Galkacyo, a major trafficking hub in central Somalia, as well as being sold to al-Shabaab in Jubaland”.
“Sources in the markets also claim that prior to November 2013, most weapons sold were black market weapons, whereas dealers now say the greatest supply of weapons is from SNA stocks.”
Amnesty International has also been critical of the security forces. “Lack of discipline and command control within Somalia’s armed forces and allied armed groups means that they not only fail to provide civilian protection, but are actually contributing to the overall insecurity,” it noted in a press release in March.
“State security forces continue to be infiltrated by criminal, radical or insurgent elements,” it said.
In February 700 SNA soldiers were “relieved of their duties”. At the time, SNA chief General Dahir Khalif Elmi said that the sacked military personnel were unfit for service as they included elderly and disabled soldiers. Shortly after their sacking, hundreds of armed soldiers took to the streets in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to protest against the decision.
“Releasing an army of 700 soldiers complete with their weapons into the city is not only dangerous to people’s security but outright irresponsible,” Ahmed Ahmed, a Somali lawmaker, told IPS.